Wednesday, May 10, 2017

TANTRA: The Path of Enjoyment and Liberation

Historically, there has been a perception that the Tantra is a very esoteric and secretive practice and only a select few are able to partake in that knowledge. But that is far from the truth. It is as applicable to a busy householder as it is to renunciant monks living in remote mountain caves. Probably the greatest barrier preventing widespread acceptance and practice of Tantra is the perceived difficult nature of the subject, stubborn conditioned thinking and preconceived notions. A major shift occurs within when the philosophy of Tantra takes root. Change begins when we start with the fundamental question of who we are. This seemingly simple question when persisted with, quickly takes us out of our comfort zone of our current persona, with which were identified. Through rigorous mental conditioning it appears as real as daylight. This question of who we are, serves as a spark than burns down the illusory self we have come to accept as real. Depending on the level of our receptivity, the spark can result in a slow burning smouldering flame that takes years to bring about lasting transformation within us, or it can burn away all our misconceptions in a flash revealing the ultimate truth.

Everything that we consider as “my life” is based solely on an artificially created personality that we have adopted as our individual reality. This begins when the ego claims a small patch of “land” in what is otherwise an infinite ocean of consciousness. Through the ego, the personality grows and is shaped by various factors, not the least of which are our likes and dislikes. Acceptance and rejection of experiences and hence perception of happiness and misery are all our doing through the gift of “free will”. The free will that we have is used and abused by the ego. Exposed to the elements, namely the impersonal side of nature which brings birth, life, disease and death in equal measure, the ego fights harder than ever to retain its place and importance in our eyes. The root cause of all our perceived troubles is identification with the individual ego that constantly overshadows the ocean of infinite consciousness of which we are an offshoot. Since individual ego cannot stake claim to the ocean of infinite consciousness that surrounds it, it grows “upwards” into the “sky”of the mind. Stretching from horizon to horizon, it soon pervades the entire mind. Every thought lives under the cloud of ego and every action consequently is performed only with its sanction.

When the individual ego is active, the mind may be represented as a triangle with the apex pointed downwards. Our awareness rests at the apex of this downward pointed triangle and from that point, the individual ego originates and spreads upwards to fill the mind. The apex represents the present, the other two edges represent the past and future. The entire mind is contained within that triangle. Try as we may in reaching beyond the mind, our awareness always comes to rest at the downward pointed apex where it merges with the individual ego. Both awareness and ego involute during sleep and expand with wakefulness. Within the mind, one appears as many and it becomes hard to identify the thread of the same consciousness that runs through every thought and all matter.

As the ego recedes, what was once the “sky” of the mind becomes the base from which awareness grows and expands. As it does, the underlying unity behind every form becomes more and more evident. When awareness expands and encompasses everything in one stream of consciousness, our individual consciousness merges with that completeness. This is the point of full liberation from individual consciousness. This is represented by an upward triangle. The apex of this triangle is representative of the one universal, all pervading consciousness.  

Interlocking upward and downward pointed triangles symbolize the essence of tantra. This is a powerful symbol that gives us a clear picture of the mind as a watershed area between human and divine consciousness. When the individual ego is active, our consciousness is pointed down into the world. When the ego condenses and collects at the apex of the downward pointing triangle, happiness becomes highly subjective, limited and relative. Here we become enslaved by the senses. When individual ego is negated, the natural tendency of our individual consciousness is to ascend towards universal unity. When our individual consciousness (through expanding awareness) reaches the apex of the upward pointed triangle which is the point of infinite freedom or liberation, endless bliss is experienced. In both states, human and divine there is happiness. In one, happiness is unending and in the other it is limited.

Liberation + enjoyment (unending)
Enjoyment (limited) + enslavement


The ego cannot be blamed for our miseries. It is just another facet of nature and existence and it has a role to play. With greater understanding, ego may actually turn out to be beneficial. Without the ego creating a sense of individuality we cannot stand apart from creation and enjoy its immense scope and beauty. As long as we maintain constant awareness of being an indivisible part of the universal consciousness, the ego cannot harm us. The question of why our awareness chooses to take sides with the ego and not infinite consciousness is not easily answered. It is not just a result of choices made in the distant past or even another lifetime. It is a choice that is continuously affirmed in the present moment. On the same token, each given moment is a fresh opportunity to take our awareness from the individual ego and merge it with the infinite stream of consciousness.

Whether we are in the grips of the ego or one with infinite consciousness, as long as we are  inhabiting a physical frame, action is inescapable. Through the lens of the ego, all action is carried with the expectation of experiencing happiness directly or indirectly. When our awareness is one with universal consciousness, bliss becomes a natural byproduct and any action that arises is done without precondition or expectation. This is true action and such actions have the potential to benefit mankind greatly. Action is not instantaneous, this is especially true of action that is the result of the ego. A cascade of events in the mind, brain and the neuromuscular complex occur before any action manifests in the world. First there is an intention created in the mind. When this happens, a silent calculation occurs in a fraction of a second before anything further happens. This calculation assesses personal benefit, graded through the potential for happiness resulting from the action. However altruistic one may be, this is inescapable. The subtle ego ensures that. The intention is translated into the language of neurochemical messengers which then activate the nervous system. That in turn elicits the appropriate responses in the physical body which we deem action. When we say action, we usually focus on the end products of a long chain of events. In fact, in every step there is action however momentary. If our awareness is free we can observe this sequence in detail. When our awareness is tied to the end product we call “action”, it becomes trapped in the plane of “reward” consciousness. In every action we do, there comes an expectation of a return which in keeps us on the back and forth seesaw of happiness and misery.

Whenever there is expectation of a reward, a question must be asked; Where in the chain of events leading to an action does that reward belong to? The chain link of action is not just within us, but it includes all people who may have had a direct or indirect hand in our wellbeing. A good example are the anonymous farmers who grow grain and other food that we consume. Since those farmers have an active hand in keeping us fed and hence promoting life within the body we inhabit, should they not get a portion of any reward we claim as ours? In this manner when we focus on the sequence of events and not the end result and the subsequent reward, the ego will diminish. If we look deep enough, every aspect of our life is a consequence of interdependence of all living beings on this plant. Plants scrub the carbon dioxide we breathe out and turn it into oxygen. Even as we turn our lush forests into deserts, the rest of the plant kingdom continues to carry out this function without expectation.

The perspective on life dramatically changes once we realize we are a small link in an endless unbroken chain of universal consciousness. The ego creates an illusion that we are separate from the concept of universality. However, by staking our individuality the chain of consciousness remains undisturbed at the universal level. “Breaking away” from universal consciousness is the mind and ego in action, both of which are part of the one universal consciousness. The ego likes to stand apart and claim another ancestry. When the mind and ego “break” the loop of completeness by identification with something other than the universal,  we are subject to misery and suffering. The one consciousness is the inescapable reality, however much we deny it. It is complete, encompassing all living entities and inanimate matter (which have vibratory “life” at the atomic scale) and all our thoughts. When everything is contained within that one consciousness, there is no second to stand apart and enjoy or suffer, praise or blame, like or dislike. Tantra takes us to that supreme level of awareness through simple practices that are applicable in the modern world.

Tantra, by helping us learn and experience unbroken continuity we share with one another, takes us beyond religion, nationality or gender. Furthermore, Tantra’s philosophy transcends human life to include all sentient beings. Lasting happiness is experienced only when there is completeness. For instance take a desire to have a certain material object. As long as the link between the desire and the object remains broken, we are unhappy and unsatisfied. But once the connection between a desire and the object of desire is established, happiness prevails. As long as this union is there, there will be happiness. In lower forms of union, especially physical, happiness is transient as desires are multifold and it is not possible to hold in union all our desires and the objects of our desires at the same time.

Even the attachment of the ego to our persona is a form of union that gives us happiness, albeit in a limited and conditioned form. Here happiness stems from the notion of “freedom” and “individuality”. Union in one form or another inescapable. The pursuit of enjoyment is the key motivator of all beings. Human beings are susceptible to the never ending cycles of happiness and misery when enjoyment through the lens of individual ego is seen as the primary goal. But those who persist in seeking an answer to the fundamental question of why enjoyment is so desirable and misery equally repulsive, will eventually get the key to unbroken happiness.
Every experience of ours is a product of a union between the observer (us) and the observed (the world). The senses interact with the world and create experiences. True and lasting happiness comes when our awareness is solely on the union and not the product of the union, which is our experiences. Likes and dislikes are applicable to our experiences but not to the union from which they arose. Mankind is ever in search of permanency in the state of happiness. This search will quickly end when we start developing an awareness of the unbroken union of the observer and the observed in all our activities.

To develop this awareness, we must first adopt a state of witnessing. In a true witnessing state, everything that is perceived (both within [our thoughts] and without [the world]) is included without judgement and nothing is excluded. The mind and ego rather than being thought of as “enemies” or “undesirable” are embraced as filters or lenses through with the one unbroken stream of consciousness flows. With an attitude of witnessing, unbroken union of the observer and the observed is possible in all our activities. Greater the depth and intensity of witnessing, lesser is the grip of identification. A witness cannot take sides, and must remain neutral. Even the gross mind and a dense ego share the thread of divinity in the form of consciousness. In a state of transcendence over the mind and individual ego, this thread of oneness becomes more apparent. But the moment we call one (human) lesser and the other greater (divine), we start to fall into the same trap, where the perception of unity is broken.

The mind frequently comes in the way of the union of our localized individual consciousness and the all pervading universal consciousness. It is impossible to cast it aside “as is” as long as we are invested in its contents. It either needs to be transformed gradually to come in line with the awareness of that union or there needs to be total acceptance that it remains a conduit between the two as it is, no matter what its contents are. That acceptance can only be complete when we are fully detached from the nature of its contents. In that state of detachment, whether our thoughts are pure or impure becomes immaterial.

It is important to have an all inclusive stance when it comes to the mind. The mind that enslaves and creates experience of misery today is the same one that becomes the vehicle for deliverance to a state of permanent freedom from miseries in the future. Mind can also be turned into a medium for enjoyment of everlasting bliss through the gross condensate of thoughts, which is matter. This can only happen if our awareness is always resting at the apex of the upward pointing triangle in the figure above. The journey of the human consciousness is from the mundane to the divine. Awareness starts to move from a localized cage of the individual thought(s) or the individual being to a more generalized state the moment we start to take a witnessing stance. This is a key aspect of Tantra, taking in everything (with detachment) and not excluding anything. There is no question of “I belong here” or “I don’t belong there”. One consciousness pervades everything and once we are one with that stream, there will be no more divisions. Even enjoyment and liberation become one and the same thing. The philosophy of Tantra takes us to that state of supreme oneness.